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Archive for May, 2011

Here we go sports fans; it’s time for Dick’s Summer Reading List. Certainly, our tastes in texts may differ all over the place, but if you want to catch up on what has come out during the past year – that’s the time when you’ve been (a) working your butt off at or outside the home, or (b) studying like crazy and ready for a break…at the beach, in the mountains, anywhere but where you’ve been – here’s a start for you.

Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow – This is not for the faint of heart. This would make a great textbook if you were studying Washington for a full semester, i.e., 16-18 weeks. This should in no way be taken as a criticism of Chernow. The book is fantastic! However, it’s not the type of non-fiction that you pick up and just slough your way through. This is a great read when you want to learn about Washington, the real person. You read several chapters and find yourself asking, “Wow, how did we ever win the Revolutionary War. This man wasn’t a god; he was just a man, with all of the problems that all men (that’s generic ‘man’) face. Chernow’s research is exceptional. I recommend this book as one that you will be able to pick up, read for a while, turn to something lighter and go back to without missing a beat.

The Fifth Witness, by Michael Connolly – Once again, Connolly exposes us to the Lincoln lawyer, Mickey Haller. It’s tough times for the lawyer and Mickey has gone in a new direction – foreclosure defense. Gee, that sounds familiar doesn’t it? There are no dry parts to this book. Once again, Connolly has given us some great beach reading with murder being the least of Mickey Haller’s problems. If you like Grisham, Baldacci, Patterson, or Thomas Perry, you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Fifth Witness.

Toys, by James Patterson – If you’re taking this novel along with you, better pack two or three more. Patterson is a wonderful writer, but he’s also a quick read. He doesn’t disappoint with Toys. This story is set in the future and Hays Baker has it all “…superhuman strength, extraordinary intelligence, stunning looks, a sex life to die for, and two beautiful children.” Everything is great until he becomes the most hunted man in the world…by damn near everybody. Like Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” novels, this one is a little off the wall but highly enjoyable.

The Informant, by Thomas Perry – I had never read Perry until an orthopedic surgeon told me that this was a “must read.” There are ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ about reading The Informant. I wish that I had read The Butcher’s Boy first. This is a follow-up to the 1982 Edgar Award winning novel. The book is one you will truly find “hard to put down.” That’s an overused phrase but I’m not fearful of using it here. It’s a toss-up; grab a copy of The Butcher’s Boy at your local library (if you can) but make certain you have The Informant as a backup. Whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed.

The Sixth Man, by David Baldacci – I really enjoy Baldacci. Whether it’s John Carr and The Camel Club battling wits with bad guys or Tom Langdon aboard The Christmas Train, when a new Baldacci becomes available, I’m there. This time it’s Sean King and Michelle Maxwell returning to help a friend who is serving as defense counsel for an accused serial killer. It wouldn’t be fair if I tell you much more. Let’s just say that Baldacci has scored once more with The Sixth Man.

Dead or Alive, by Tom Clancy – I have just started to read this novel. The only reason I put it down is that the damned thing is over 900 pages; I bought the hard cover version, and it gets heavy! No kidding; I’m old; gimme a break! Like other Clancy tomes, this one involves the Ryan’s. This time, it’s Jack, Jr. who’s on the hot seat. As far as I’ve gotten, it’s a good one. Clancy’s been away from the ‘new release world’ for a while, but if the first few chapters are any indication, all I’ll say is…”He’s baaack!”

The Templar Salvation, by Raymound Khoury – This is a sequel to The Last Templar. I strongly urge that you read these books in order. Both books bounce back and forth between ancient times and the present day. That does not make the novels complicated; it merely explains why things happen as they do. This is the London-based screenwriter’s fourth novel. I have yet to read The Sanctuary or The Sign, but I’m looking forward to picking them up at the local library. Good writer; good plots; good read.

I’m going to stop at this point, except to say that whatever you do this summer, I hope you’ll find time to read. Whether it’s a light novel or a complex piece of non-fiction, it will give your brain the exercise it so richly deserves.

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Yeah, we did it! Let’s hear it for the good old US of A. We did it in record time. There were the doubters who said we couldn’t do it until late June or sometime in July, but you know us Yanks. If there’s a way to get it done faster, we’ll find it. The national debt has hit its ceiling of 14.3 trillion dollars. Not something to be particularly proud of, is it?

I haven’t heard as much yelling and screaming from Congress lately about how we have to balance the budget; how we have to cut this program or that; how President Obama hasn’t done enough to cut the budget to please the tea party, the Republicans, or even members of his own party. “We just can’t go on spending this way or we’ll become bankrupt.” Yep, that seems about right. We’re gonna go bankrupt, and then the whole world is going to fall apart because the United States of American is “bankrupt.” We can’t pay our loans; we can’t pay the interest on those loans; China or some other nation is going to own the United States. Well, no, that’s not quite the situation.

Despite the prognostications of Harold Camping the world did not come to an end recently and just because America has reached its national debt ceiling doesn’t mean that the country will be bankrupt and we’ll all wind up doing the bread and water drill. For many, that would be a new and totally different menu than they are used to eating. Don’t worry; ain’t gonna happen. America’s economy is so closely intertwined with the majority of those who are carrying our debt, e.g., China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom, that it would stir up as many problems in those nations as it would in our own.

The debt ceiling could always be raised by Congress. However, I’m not certain that’s such a bright idea. When you do that, it seems, and I’m certainly no economic wizard, you just wind up printing more currency. When more currency is printed, it depreciates the worth of what you already have. One economist indicated that $100 today buys approximately what $20 bought in the 1960s.

The thing that I find appalling is that Legislative and the Executive Branches of our government seem to prefer doing political infighting rather than attempting to find solutions to our financial ills. Because the incumbent spent a hunk of money to bail out financial institutions and corporations that provide jobs doesn’t mean that the guy is the last of the big spenders. Frankly, the investments, while painful at the time, seem to have paid dividends even in the short run. What the government should really be taking a hard look at now is how the banks and the corporate community are spending the billions in profits that have come back to them. Is it in more intelligent and closely monitored loans on the part of banks? Is it product improvement on the part of major corporations? Or is it, perhaps, being used to increase the salaries of the fat cats who are already overpaid? Who is overseeing what is going on in corporate America and don’t give me that bullshit about “government interference” because if the government had to bail these people out, the government has every right in the world to know what these banks and corporations are doing now to ensure that they won’t have to come suckling at the government teat again.

The other part of this saga that worries me tremendously is how every problem is now being laid at the doorstep of Barack Obama. Wait a minute; it took a long time – eight years in fact – for us to get into this financial mess. It was not an overnight occurrence. Obama didn’t begin the wars, he inherited them; he did inherit a loose cannon national debt and massive unemployment. When the Clinton administration left office, the national debt was just over $5 trillion. That’s not to say that Clinton was spending money faster than it was coming in; quite the opposite. Under his administration, Clinton was actually attempting to reduce what had been a larger national debt. He didn’t, of course. He actually added about another trillion dollars.

Let’s step back for a minute and look at how the national debt has come to be the subject around the water cooler. Be forewarned; it is extremely difficult to find accurate figures regarding who is responsible  for putting us in the mess in which we find ourselves. When Jimmy Carter left office, the national debt was $800 billion…that’s a ‘b.’ When Ronald Reagan left office the debt had risen to $2.8 trillion. Bush the First may have called it “voodoo economics” but his record wasn’t much better. When he left, the debt had increased again, this time up to $4.3 trillion. While many say that Clinton ran a balanced budget or even one that created a surplus, the debt when he left office was $5.7, an increase of 1.4 trillion dollars. When George W. Bush left office in 2000, the national debt had risen to $10.4 trillion dollars. And Congress is blaming Obama for the national debt? Yes, he increased it, but in this writer’s opinion, it was an increase designed to save the US. economy.

Now that the debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion has been reached, will we see it begin to come down or will it just travel out of sight? I don’t know. I’m hopeful that there can be a reduction in debt as we wind down from our wars around the world. Decreasing the budget for the defense of America, however, may not be an option if we choose to place additional emphasis on combating domestic terrorism and illegal immigration. No matter what eventually happens, we have to be honest with ourselves and say that no single president since Jimmy Carter has been responsible for this economic debacle. But rather than share the blame, it’s time that Americans demand that the political infighting come to an end and a new course be mapped, one of cooperation and one that will lead us in the direction of reducing our national debt.

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Today I saw an old man walking through the parking lot at the grocery store. He sure dressed funny. He had a plaid shirt, khaki shorts, high white socks and a pair of sneakers. I watched him through the rear view window as he loaded groceries into his car. “He’s too old to be dressing like” that was my first impression. Then the light dawned on Marblehead; that was me. Oh, sure, I was sitting in the car, waiting for Juli, who had gone in to do the shopping because we’d already been to several stores and I was winded. Winded, sitting in the car, waiting while someone else does the shopping, dressed in khaki shorts, a sweatshirt, white athletic socks, and a pair of cross trainers (sneakers to the uninformed). Holy shit! At least that guy went in and did the shopping. And I’m calling him an old man? That’s the pot calling the kettle black as the old expression goes.

It’s sometimes quite difficult to accept the fact of aging. I have no idea how old that man in the parking lot was…he just looked old to me. He still had much of his hair, and it was black – dyed, I’m certain, but he had it, unlike someone I see in the mirror every morning who finally took to shaving the whole damned thing off. Imagine what someone younger would say if I got out of the car and went into the store…youch!

The old man brought back memories of my youth. We used to laugh at people like that. “Looka da white socks,” or “Never catch me in those shorts; that’s an old guy’s thing;” or “Boy, he’s old,” and the guy might have been in his mid-fifties or something. We didn’t know it was going to happen to us one day. We didn’t realize that we’d be wearing that same bloody outfit and feel good about ourselves while doing it. Of course, that was back in the days before Bermuda shorts were popular. Maybe the old folks of my day just had good fashion sense and we were too damned dumb to recognize it.

I remember old Mr. Ferguson on Belmont Street. He was a widower. Oh, what rotten little shits we were to that poor elderly man. On Halloween, we’d ring his doorbell and run like hell. He’d come to the front door, open the screened section in front only to find that no one was there. We’d do that a few times and on the third time, we’d jam the screen door so it wouldn’t open. We dumb bastards thought it was funny when he put his hand through the screen. I wish he was around so that I might apologize. You were a nice old man, Mr. Ferguson. I’m sorry for what we did to you; I’m not certain you were as old then as I am now, and I sure know how I’d feel about it if some kids did that to me today.

Aging is an interesting process. I can only speak from one person’s viewpoint, but it seems that our body ages a heck of a lot quicker than our minds. Perhaps that’s where the old saw, “The mind is willing but the flesh is weak,” comes from. I don’t really know. I find, as I age, that my mind tells me that I can still do so many things…like run or jump or pick up things that used to be comparatively light, but when I go to do them, my body betrays me. I really should understand this because I know – in my heart of hearts – that rheumatoid arthritis as well as the consequences of having been an athlete as well as a smoker will prevent me from running or jumping as I once did. My intelligence tells me that after the age of 40 we begin to lose muscle mass, thus explaining what once was light has now become a genuine burden. It’s sort of the reverse of The Little Engine That Could; “I think I can; I think I can; to hell you can; you just wish you could!”

A friend at the gym, a high school teacher by profession, is 36. We were joking about it the other day. He came in while I was on the elliptical. “I’m wiped,” he said, “and look at you; you’re still pumping away. Man, you make me feel old.” I thought about it for a minute and then realized I could actually be his grandfather…if I was young and prolific when the whole process began.

Some wag once noted, “I may have to grow old, but I don’t have to grow up.” Well, I hate to tell you, but if you don’t act your age, you look like a fool. It took a while, but I now realize that I cannot bench what people half or even three quarters my age can bench. I can, however, still do bench presses. No one asks why I use so little weight. I get sore from doing it, but it’s a good kind of soreness, the type that makes me aware that I’ve done something good for my body. No, I can’t run, but I can walk on an elliptical machine until I break out in a good sweat and, again, know that I’ve don’t something good for my body. So, “Yes, you do have to grow up; you have to accept the fact that aging is a process from which there is no escape.” Cradle the fact that your aging to your bosom. There are many of your friends who never made it this far. These are the ones who are looking at the roots, rather than at the flowers.

The late, great George Burns noted, “Age to me means nothing. I can’t get old; I’m working. I was old when I was twenty-one and out of work. As long as you’re working, you stay young. When I’m in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age.” We don’t really have that luxury, but as long as we’re doing something to exercise our minds and our bodies, I believe we slow down the aging process. I don’t know about the ‘old’ man in the parking lot; haven’t a clue as to what he does when he’s not food shopping. As for me, I enjoy reading, working out in the gym, writing this blog, and staying alive. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that for a long, long time.

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Somehow, the past few days have been all about sex! The Governator and his little bastard, Dominique Stauss-Khan and his diddlings with a hotel maid; and Keith Richards recent revelations about the groupies who used to follow him to his hotel room, etc. I wouldn’t be bothered by all of this so much but where was all this action when I was younger. Yeah, I know; I didn’t have the star power, name recognition, or the money to attract groupies, whoopies, and roadies. That’s okay; I was busy being married and raising three wonderful kids. Funny but I don’t remember a ton of sex scandals back “in the day” so to speak.

I’m certain that there are a great many actors – Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Mr. & Mrs. Donald Sutherland and the late Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy come immediately to mind – who have had long, boring, and highly successful marriages. I’m quite certain the same can be said for members of Congress and other “star power” folks. As with anything else, however, good news does not sell. It’s only the seamier side of life that seems to catch the attention of the media and oh, how they can play it up. There must have been absolute salivation on the part of assignment editors from the print and television media when John Edwards admitted that he had fathered a ‘love child.’ Meanwhile, Elizabeth is going through chemo and other treatments for cancer. Lord, how the media sucked on that one for a while.

You can now see that this is not going to be an essay about the sexual escapades of famous or infamous people.  No, this is about the manner in which the media tend to sensationalize stories that are gruesome and horrific. It’s amazing how a story that does not fall into either of those categories receives second shrift as far as most media are concerned.  It’s also about us, the gullible public, who sucks up every ghastly scene and reads every grisly word of someone else’s misery. When the first of the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2008, the mad scramble was on for who could grab the most terrifying film footage and get it on the air first. For days following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, stations were coming up with clever leads as they continued to deliver ‘news’ of how bad things were…and we watched…and we read…and we followed every word, be it oral or printed.

One of the things that I’ve noticed about military funerals of local military personnel is that the gist of the story doesn’t appear to concern the soldier, sailor, marine, or airman who died in the service of his or her country. The story doesn’t appear directed at the family loss, unless of course, there happens to be a pregnant wife holding one child in her arms while two other young ones cling to her skirt – “Get in for a close up on that one Jack. Great shot, man!” No, the story eventually turns toward Fred Phelps and his picketers, holding up the signs that are supposed to depict freedom of speech. Frankly, I think the Westboro Baptist Church crowd deserves to spend a few weeks in jail with Bubba and some of his friends. I wonder how that would play out on a “breaking news” station.

It seems that if Obama farts in public it’s a lead story on FOX news the Boston Herald, and Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and other to-the-right-of-Genghis-Kahn commentators will play it up for weeks. The same may be said for newspapers and television and radio stations who favor the Democrats. When Newt Gingrich declared his intention to run for President, more seemed to be said about his moral behavior than his political accomplishments.

The media has become too powerful. For those who remember the movie, The President’s Analyst with James Coburn. It was a satirical comedy that ended by showing that the world was actually controlled by AT&T.  With the breakup of that monopoly in 1982, the new powerhouse became television. Who can get the goriest news first? I’m certain I’ve told this story before, however, in 1981, a local television cameraman was sitting in my office. “The story is a non-story,” I told him over what had been something of a news story three weeks before. The reporter who was with him was on the phone with her boss in another office, attempting to find a way to get someone at the College to talk about what had happened His response was interesting…”Yeah, but we’re the ‘t and a’ station. We gotta get something.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, ‘t and a’ stands for ‘tits and ass;’ in other words, sensationalization (I just created a word) by any means possible.

A friend of mine was an assignment editor at one of the local affiliate television stations in the Boston area. He described it this way: “It’s a case of who can break a story first. If you develop a viewer following because you can do that, your ratings go up. When your ratings go up, you have something to show advertisers. There’s your money in the bank. You may not like some of the stories that have to be covered, but they have to be covered.” This, I guess, means that television is not entertainment as we are given to believe; television is a hard ass business with real bottom line consequences. Former President Jimmy Carter and his Habitat for Humanity organization don’t sell advertising on television. Presidential candidate Gary Hart screwing Donna Rice on a boat called “Monkey Business” is news. One is about a group of people helping people; the other is about an idiot cheating on his wife, getting a piece of ass. Now, which story would you rather see? Our innate prurient interest draws us to the story of Hart’s indiscretion like moths to the proverbial flame. Unless we happen to be so pure of heart – so to speak – that we won’t watch television news or read the front pages of newspapers, we are, when it comes right down to it lascivious, lecherous, salacious, carnal beings. We may deny that until hell freezes over but within each of us lies an eroticomaniacal being who dotes on the ills that befall others, whether their misery be licentious in nature, devastation of some type – bear witness those glued to the television to watch the recent tornado devastation in the Midwest, or the ‘murder by mother’ which seems to be one of the stories of each day.

We live in an age of instant communication. We live at a time when there is so much information coming at us so fast that we barely have time to absorb even a part of it. It would appear that the more intemperate and unrestrained that information happens to be, the better its chances for getting into our brains. As horrible as that may sound; as much as we wish we could deny it, it’s the way too many of us are wired.

I love good news stories; I really do. I think it’s fantastic when groups of college kids go on Spring Break to work with underprivileged children, build houses, or help to clean up communities that have been ravaged. They don’t make good copy and they don’t make the images that too many of us, worldwide, want to see. Maybe, too, the public should begin to boycott some of the advertisers and let the networks know exactly why they are doing so…”We’re sick and tired of the crap you’re trying to shove down our throats and we’re not gonna take it anymore.” Maybe it’s time that we, the great worldwide public, take our own stand…just maybe.

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Our granddaughter underwent brain surgery the other day. It was to remove a ‘cavernous malformation’, a cluster of abnormal dilated vessels that appear to have no purpose other than to be a colossal pain when they begin to bleed. Hers bled just after the New Year and caused a number of anxious moments. This was deep in her brain, was going to take seven hours to be removed. She is our first-born grandchild. I’m attached to all nine of our grandchildren, but I think the first always has a special place in one’s heart.

Since I don’t walk around hospitals as much as I once did, I manned the home front and kept in touch via telephone – I am just not that big into texting…yet – getting updates every few hours. You can’t really read; that takes a certain degree of concentration. Television becomes a blur. There are only so many times you can play solitaire or solve jigsaw puzzles on the computer. And, with the way New England weather has been this Spring, sitting outside, you’d be soaking up raindrops rather than getting an early start on that summer tan.

Since my thoughts tend to roam to weird things – Juli, my partner calls me, “one crazy-assed old man” – my mind returned to high school and a course we had in our senior year entitled Problems of Democracy. I thought about the teacher for a minute. Since I found him then and still do today a thoroughly distasteful and perverted son-of-a-bitch, I won’t mention his name. The thing I remember about the class is that he would sit in the front of the room and sleep while we were supposed to be reading this or that chapter in our texts. Thinking of how he failed us as a teacher pisses me off much more today than it did in the long, long ago when I was just as young and stupid as you and you and you were at one time.

What truly maddens me is that he taught us nothing of the problems faced by a democracy. Hell, I’m not even certain he ever explained the true meaning of democracy except, perhaps, to tell us that we live in one and should be happy about it. Perhaps at the time I was willing to accept those answers. I was 17 or 18 at the time and he was just so bad. As a consequence, let me tell you about where most Americans live and a few of the problems that face this ‘democracy’ of which we are a part.

Ours is a political system for choosing and replacing our government through free and fair elections. Unlike some other countries where you might get killed if you go anywhere near the polls, that’s a pretty good deal. The fair part is where one of the problems creeps in. You see, between insufficient ballots, hanging chads, ballot counters who are rewarded for cheating, and the fact that you have to be a millionaire to run for national political office, I have a serious question about the fairness of our elections. At the local level – selectman or woman, town clerk, school board members, etc., the democratic process of free and fair elections works wonderfully. It appears that the minute you jump up to state or national levels, there are some glitches. I suppose one might say that this has always been so. By and large, it has always been the wealthy who have governed and even then, some of the wealthy are excluded. How Barack Obama broke into this old boy’s network is a question that will puzzle historians for years.

We also believe, as part of our democratic process, in “The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.” This is a part of our process which I think is great. It doesn’t always achieve its goals, but it got women and people of color the right to vote. It allows people to twist the truth and plead that it’s their First Amendment right to do so. It allows others to build personal arsenals and claim that this is their Second Amendment right without ever having read the entire amendment. When “the people” in large enough quantities want the government to do something, they can often make it happen.

Democracy is also protecting the human rights of all of its citizens. Originally, those rights were of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While statistics say we’re doing a good job of protecting life, I don’t agree. We send our young to be killed for reasons that no one can explain to my personal satisfaction. At home, loss of life seems to be on the decline, but don’t tell that to the mothers of kids who are killed by drive-bys every single day and night. As far as the pursuit of happiness is concerned, it’s more like the pursuit of survival in today’s world. Yes, there are many out there who are pursuing their dreams; there are an equal or greater number who are just trying to pursue a roof for their family’s head and a meal for tonight’s supper. Here, then, is another problem that we, as a democracy, are facing.

The final element in a system of democracy, according to some is, “A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.” That’s great except that it’s bullshit. Rules of law do not apply to all citizens equally. If the white kid in the suburbs is picked up for a DUI, mom or dad are called and the kid goes home until arraignment. If it happens in the ghetto, that kid is in the slammer whether mom and dad get a call or not. All men and women may appear equal in the eyes of the law; in actuality, this is not the case.

The problems that our democracy faces are major but not insurmountable. We think of one of our major problems as being poverty. I would prefer to say that an even larger problem is greed. We are still fighting the good fight over equal pay for equal work for women. How about equal pay for equal work for minorities. Better yet, how about equalizing the pay between those who are actually performing the tasks and those who sit behind big desks and pretend to make important decisions.

We talk about America as a land of equality. Racism is as alive and well here today as it was pre-Emancipation Proclamation time. Even that document, signed January 1, 1863, wasn’t adhered to by many after the time it became law. Remember, it was George Orwell who wrote, “All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” There are cases today where a Black man in a white neighborhood can trigger a call to police and a response with the question, “Would you tell us your business here please? (Sometimes without that last word being thrown in.)

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m with Sir Winston Churchill: “Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

I just find it unconscionable that one of the most important courses I could have taken in high school was so poorly thought of that they allowed this man to sit behind his desk and pretend to teach it. If such a course is still in the curriculum, I hope that the students out there are demanding better and that parents are checking up to ensure that their kids are being taught the importance of understanding what American Democracy really means.

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It appears that ever since man discovered that the dangly thing between his legs could be used for something more than releasing a yellowish-colored stream that would allow him to walk more upright, the damned thing has been getting him in trouble. God said to Adam and Eve, “Go you forth and procreate.” He probably should have set down a few rules as to who could do ‘It’ with who and under what conditions.

Over the centuries that little dangly thing – which has gone by many names, depending on the politeness of the company – has been used as a spy tool, a relief valve for chastity bound clergy, and a weapon of mass destruction for marriages across the world. There have even been cases of the dangly thing resulting in the man going home and the other partner being stoned to death. It could, perhaps, be called the most violent part of a man’s body…and his two nutty friends do nothing to control him.

Comedian Robin Williams has put it this way, “God gave man a penis and a brain and only enough blood to run one at a time.” It seems that the blood which we have been given prefers to run downhill from the heart rather than uphill to the brain. As a consequence, the little head seems to overrule the big head in all too many situations. There have been times when I’ve found it difficult to understand how the Mormons made it all the way to Utah to settle. With all those wives and all that time on the trail, it’s a bit of a wonder that they could drive their wagons in a straight line. At one point I believed they were being guided by a group of Catholic priests or ancestors of Jim Baker, but with the number of young boys in the party, that probably wasn’t the case.

I kid about the dangly thing getting men into trouble. Marriages, at least in America, still appear to be on the rise. What is the chief cause of divorce? No, it is not Mr. Dangly searching for the neighbor’s honey pot. The chief cause is listed as “communications.” “He doesn’t talk to me.” Say that once too often and there is a Mr. Dangly just waiting to pick up the conversation…and the same is true when it’s said by the other partner. There is always a willing shoulder to cry on; a voice to listen, and a dangly mate where one may go for comfort.

Mr. Dangly has been getting men in trouble since time immemorial. However time and space prohibit going back to the release of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio in the Fourteenth Century. No, we will, instead, concentrate on the more current day dallying of Mr. Dangly in the pursuit of pleasure. We also will not, in the interest of fairness, attempt to keep track of how many dangler dalliers were from which political party.

Beginning in 1903, the Speaker of the House, one David Henderson of Iowa, was forced to resign over his sexual relationship with the daughter of a Senator. Well, one must admit that cooperation between the lower and upper houses has always been something of a problem. Perhaps this was an attempt at reconciliation…of some type.

Those who remember the case of Arkansas Representative, Wilbur Mills, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee surely realized that he knew the ways and means of “The Argentine Firecracker,” Fanne Foxe. After being stopped for speeding in the District in 1974, Ms. Foxe jumped into the Tidal Basin. While this didn’t seem to put a damper of Wilbur’s prospects in the House, he didn’t run again in 1976.

“I can’t type; I can’t file; I can’t even answer the phone,” admitted Elizabeth Ray. Her main job as secretary to the House Administration Committee was to have sex with committee chair, Wayne Hays of Ohio. She was, however, receiving $14,000 a year for “performing her duties.” Hays, who was described as “…one of the most powerful and disliked members of Congress” was quickly stripped of his chairmanship by the Ethics Committee and did not run for reelection. Perhaps paying for sex is the only way some of these Congressmen feel that are doing the right thing. After all, it is jobs creation. Just ask Colleen Gardner, a staff secretary to Representative John Young of Texas. After all, she received a salary increase after giving in to the Congressman’s advances.

Since I’ve often been accused of being anti-Congress, I would be remiss if I did not mention White House scandals. While everyone was shocked when Bill Clinton found the only Jewish girl who’d never heard of Oxyclean, he was merely carrying on a tradition that began over 200 years ago. The “Father of our Country,” was linked with one Mary Gibbons while Thomas Jefferson’s affair with Mary Hemmings is quite well known. Woodrow Wilson and Mary Hubert Peck; Warren Harding and Nan Britton were both roué’s of the first order. Franklin Roosevelt may have been slowed down by polio but that didn’t stop him from having at least two affairs while in the White House; the first was with his secretary, “Missy” Le Hand and the second with Crown Princess Marta of Norway who lived in the White House during World War II.

No essay of Mr. Dangly’s dalliances would be complete without reference to everyone’s dangly hero, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Among the known beneficiaries of his dangly largesse were Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson, ‘Blaze’ Starr the stripper, and Judith Exner Campbell, also the mistress of Chicago crime boss, Sam Giancana. John’s Johnson was also reported to have had the pleasure of partying with several of his secretaries during his short time in office.

While there have been stories of other political shenanigans, e.g., Gary Hart, Dan Quayle, Chuck Robb, Bob Packwood, John Edwards, and Mel Reynolds, to name a few, some of been turned away as rumors while others have resulted in “I will not be a candidate for reelection in order to spend more time with my family.” It should come as no surprise therefore that the ‘Guvenator’ had a hard time keeping Mr. Dangly from leaping out of his thong and fathering a child by someone other than his wife.

I think it’s highly possible that the Good Lord might be back at the drawing board right now, trying to figure a way in which he can populate another planet or universe with a race where Mr. Dangly won’t be around to bet so many people in trouble.

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How many people do you know who admit to having a “bucket list?” Obviously, the question is based on the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Just in case you missed it, the movie is about two men who have cancer; one is Black, the other White; one is just your ordinary Joe from a middle-class family; the other is an exceptionally wealthy, single man who believes the world is his for the taking. The two meet in a hospital owned by the wealthy fellow, but who has been unable to have a single room because his policy has been to “double up” in every hospital he owns. One might say, “He’s been hoisted by his own petard.” Anyway, they become friends and create separate lists of the things they wish they had done before this cancer diagnosis got the best of them. Yes, you could call it a “wish list,” a “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” list or whatever. They combine their lists, and because the cancers have not reached a Stage IV diagnosis, they do all that is on their “bucket lists.” End of summary.

After watching the movie, I began to wonder about the things I might have done had not aging, COPD, and rheumatoid arthritis set in. I’ve often heard that when people are on their death beds, it’s not what they did in their lives that they recall, but what they didn’t get to do. It prompted me to sit down and write about what might have been in my life and to ask you, particularly if you are younger and in good health, to prepare your own list of what you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket,” so to speak.

There are two things that come immediately to my mind that I would like to have accomplished. The first is that I would like to have gone skydiving. Some friends and I had planned to do it. We were going to Orange, Massachusetts to a skydiving school run by Jacques Istel. He is credited by many as the “father of American skydiving,” and it was something with which I was fascinated. After all, I was 30 years old, in great shape; it was reasonably inexpensive and sounded like fun. It was also the antithesis of what my bride of eight years wished for her husband. It was the one and only time in our marriage that she looked me straight in the eye and said, “If you do this, don’t expect to find me here when you come back…I will divorce you.” Perhaps you had to be there, but the intensity of her stare was proof positive that I should not go skydiving. Interestingly, of the three colleagues who went, two were injured; it probably was just as well I didn’t go. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to have done it and yes, I know that Bush I did it on his 80th birthday. At that age, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy, just stupid.

The second thing that I would like to have done would have been to visit Florence, Italy. My son has been there on a couple of occasions and described the city and its museums. He has painted a picture of unbelievable beauty, particularly in the museums that are such an integral part of Florence. Certainly, the United States has magnificent museums of its own, but to hear Rick talk of those in that one city puts it right near the very top of my personal “bucket list.”

Travel has never been truly high on my list of things to do; I like my own bed too much. Perhaps that makes me either an old fart or a fuddy-duddy, depending on your point of view. I’ve driven across the country and seen places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. I stood atop Pike’s Peak and looked over into Kansas. I swam in the Pacific and got a speeding ticket in Amarillo. I’ve been to Bermuda on several occasions and can state unequivocally that it’s just as beautiful as everyone else says it is. Perhaps visiting every state in which I haven’t set foot belongs on my list. Heaven only knows, I criticize others who travel abroad before seeing our own beautiful nation. Guess I’d have to travel the U.S. before setting off for Florence.

Would I wish that I had made more money so that I could have done all of these things? Naw, I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong. Playing the lottery every once in a while is fun, but if I ever hit it big, I’d probably wind up giving most of it away…pay off the kid’s houses and get them better ones if they wished; guarantee that the grandkids would have money for college if they want to go; set up scholarships in my parents’ names at a couple of colleges; endow chairs in cardiology and neurosurgery at a local hospital, and; oh gosh, I’m certain I could make it disappear pretty quickly…before the scammers had a shot.

“Bucket lists” are great. They give you a chance to think about your life and what you might have done, “if only.” It isn’t too late, you know; you can start a bucket list right now. Remember the young man who wanted to attend a major league baseball game in every park in the country. Seems to me that he didn’t come from wealth, but he was still able to do it. Given your ‘druthers,’ so to speak, what would be on your “bucket list?”There’s an old saying that goes, “Whatever your brain can conceive and whatever you can convince yourself to believe, this is what you can achieve.” Obviously, there are limitations, but we don’t give ourselves enough credit for how good we are. Create your “bucket list;” go wild with it. Look at it once a month. At the end of a year, you may have revised it a dozen times, but you still have your list. Then it’s time to get busy finding ways to accomplish what you’ve written. We are on this Earth for such a short space of time. Don’t regret what you should have done. Get out and do it…now!

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